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Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Summit weekend in Panmunjon between North and South Korean leaders: a chef flown in from a Pyongyang resto served famous cold noodle dish, on an oval dining table with legs shaped like two bridges merging. A weekend indeed replete with symbols, typically Asian.

North Korea's Kim Jong-un and South Korea's Moon Jae-in like long-lost brothers.



Early last Saturday morning, a small group gathered at the Tagaytay Highlands cottage of former Speaker Joe de Venecia and wife Gina---that included two writers doing JDV’s biography as five-term Speaker and one-time presidential aspirant, namely, Charlson Ong and Noel Albano, and myself as project manager. We were all mesmerized as we watched the historic---almost unbelievable---summit between former bitter protagonists of the Korean Peninsula---President Moon Jae-in of South Korea (SK) and Kim Jong-un of North Korea (NK)---at the historic village of Panmunjon.

It was in this border village between North and South Korea that the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed in July 1953, that gave pause to the Korean War. Thus did this armistice prevent that regional war from blowing up into possibly the Third World War, that could have engulfed the US, Russia and China. The armistice created a 284 km. Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) just south of the 38th Parallel that effectively divided the Korean Peninsula. 

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Last Friday, what transpired at the DMZ was perhaps even more significant than the Korean Armistice Agreement of 1953.  For from that colorful historic border meeting---so typically Asian in that it was fraught with symbolisms---came forth the pledge of NK that the nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula would be halted. Several days later, news reports said that Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi---the highest ranking Chinese official to travel to NK since 2007---met with Kim Jong-un and Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho where they “discussed issues, including the de-nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” 

News reports said that “China, NK’s sole diplomatic ally and economic benefactor, has supported a series of UN sanctions against Pyongyang over its nuclear and missile programs.” This is incredible news from the Chinese camp indeed, which comes ahead of the scheduled visit in a few weeks to Pyongyang of US President Donald Trump, to confer with Kim Jong-un.

These recent developments in rapid succession would impact tremendously not only on the East Asian region but on the entire world. Recall that there was a time when NK leader Kim Jong-un was even threatening to unleash his missiles on US territory. Now de-nuclearization has become a popular buzz-word even by the Chinese! 

Could it be possible indeed that the whole East Asian region is coming to a new era of peace and prosperity?  Is the reunification of the two Koreas, like those of the two Germanys and the two Vietnams, on the horizon?  Miracles have happened before. 

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Our Tagaytay Highlands host Joe de Venecia looked a bit like an expectant father as he watched the leaders of the two Koreas hug in Panmunjon that morning, then hold hands as they crossed over to the blue building for talks. Joe de V.  has been keenly following developments in the Korean Peninsula, noting that CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who has recently assumed the post of US Secretary of State, had quietly met with Kim Jong-Un in Pyongyang earlier---thus signaling the upcoming meeting between Kim and President Trump.

JDV also noted that his friend, Ambassador Chung Eui-yong, who had since retirement become Secretary-General of the International Conference of Asian Political Parties (ICAPP) has also become National Security Adviser to the SK President. Chung played a key role in past weeks in pace-setting the talks preliminary to the Summit of the two Korean leaders and soon between the US President and the NK leader. 

Speedy and mind-boggling events indeed.

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As an Asian I must confess to be easily won over by symbols and symbolisms. It was so fascinating to watch the high drama unfold in Panmunjon. In the words of former US President Bill Clinton who visited that village during his term, it is "the scariest place on earth” as soldiers from both sides stare each other in the face over a thin imaginary demarcation line. In 1976 NK troops axed to death two American soldiers trimming a nearby tree. In 1984, a student from Moscow fled from NK to the South, triggering a 30-minute gun battle that left four people dead---though the student was unhurt.

Thus, when the world saw Kim Jong-un cross into SK territory---the first NK leader to do so after nearly seven decades---and embrace and walk hand in hand with his SK counterpart, it was just electrifying.

The New York Times story on that epochal meeting, written by Mecan Specia and Tim Wallace, dripped with doting details.  Blue was the color of the day, and aptly so, for it’s the UN official color as well as of the Korean reunification flag.  Even the footbridge that Moon and Kim walked across was painted blue. 

For their formal dinner held in the “Peace House” that technically is in SK’s side, the two leaders sat at a table whose legs were shaped like two bridges merging. As the SK release put it, their design was intended “to help bridge the psychological distance stemming from the physical boundaries marked by the Military Demarcation Line and 65 years of division.”

A chef from a Pyongyang restaurant specializing in a famous cold noodle dish called "maengmyeon" was brought to Panmunjon only for that memorable  summit dinner. 

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More details from the New York Times: a painting of Mt. Kumgang in NK decorated the hall, symbolizing cooperation between North and South. A tree-planting ceremony was also scheduled, featuring a pine tree dating to 1953 when the Armistice Treaty was signed, while the soil to be used had a mixture from Mt. Paektu in NK and Mt. Halla in SK.  According to NK lore, the founder of that nation, Kim Il-sung, young Kim’s grandfather, fought the Japanese  in Mt. Paektu, and his son, Kim Jong-il, was born there. On the other hand, Mt. Halla is SK’s tallest peak.

But not everything about the dinner was rosy. According to the Times: a mango mousse, decorated with a map of the Korean Peninsula, irritated Japan because it’s claiming some of the islands on that map.  Japan lodged an official complaint with SK, but that’s very minor compared to the major achievement of that historic event between the two Korean leaders---and especially their declaration of intent to de-nuclearize their peninsula, which, hopefully, China would imitate. 

If NK were to follow through on its word, it will prosper like its neighbor to the south, for the billions and billions devoted to nuclear weapons---as well as foreseeable sizable aid from the US--- could pour into NK, so that it could wipe out the massive poverty of its people, so pitiful compared to the prosperity of SK. 

A united and peaceful Korean Peninsula? The world can dream, can’t it?

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